The ashes of Laurence Olivier, Baron Olivier of Brighton, the greatest actor of his generation, are buried in the south transept of Westminster Abbey. He lies near the graves of actors David Garrick and Sir Henry Irving, in front of Shakespeare's memorial. He died on 11th July 1989 at his home in Sussex but his ashes were not buried here until 16th September 1991, at a private ceremony. A memorial service was held in the Abbey on 20th October 1989 and items symbolic of his life and work were carried in procession by, among others, Douglas Fairbanks, Michael Caine and Peter O'Toole. The address was given by Sir Alec Guiness. A recording of Olivier reading an extract from Act 4 of Shakespeare's Henry V was played during the service, the first time the voice of the deceased had been heard during their memorial service in the Abbey.
His memorial stone was unveiled on 23rd September 1991 by Sir John Gielgud, who had given a memorable reading at the service in 1989. The stone is of Westmorland green slate and was cut by Ieuan Rees. The inscription reads:
1907 LAURENCE OLIVIER O.M. ACTOR 1989
About Laurence Olivier
He was born in Dorking, Surrey on 22nd May 1907, a son of the Reverend Gerard Kerr Olivier and his wife Agnes. While attending a choir school in London he appeared in a play aged ten and was seen by famous actress Ellen Terry who declared him to be a great actor even at that early age. In 1930 he married Jill Esmond and in the following year, while in a play on Broadway, he was talent spotted and invited to Hollywood. But his career did not take off at that time and he returned to London and with Gielgud's assistance built his reputation as a major classical actor. Returning to Hollywood at the end of the decade he finally had success there, beginning with Wuthering Heights. His first marriage was dissolved and he married Vivien Leigh in 1940 and the following year returned to England to join the Fleet Air Arm. He directed and starred in the morale boosting film Henry V and was knighted in 1947. In 1981 he was appointed to the Order of Merit.
Order of Service - Service of Thanksgiving to the Life and Work of Laurence Olivier
by Allan Warren (Own work allanwarren.com) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library
Image © 2023 Dean and Chapter of Westminster